Best of 2013: Key Lessons and Resources for the Fight Against Poverty

December 23, 2013

At Grameen Foundation, we’re committed to sharing our experiences and insights with others. Only together can we leverage the resources and know-how to connect the world’s poor to their potential. In this spirit, we offer up four lessons learned or affirmed through our work, along with relevant resources we or others have published over the course of 2013.

CARD Bank saver, with ATM card
CARD Bank savings client with her new ATM card

Human networks are critical to overcoming the gender barriers and literacy challenges faced when delivering products and services to the poor

This year, we published several resources related to better understanding and utilizing human networks to eliminate global poverty:

  • Grameen Foundation India and Enclude co-published research and analysis on the operational challenges of the Banking Correspondent model in India and offered up some recommendations for improving the model;

  • Grameen Foundation India documented how microfinance institution CASHPOR used its existing loan officers as banking correspondents to cost-efficiently offer access to both credit and savings; and

  • Grameen Foundation launched the Human Capital Hub, a one-stop resource for human capital management tools to help social enterprises – particularly MFIs – increase employee commitment and effectiveness and improve client protection.

Developing products and services for the poor is a marathon, not a sprint

As we concluded our four-year Savings Initiative supported by the Gates Foundation this fall, we were able to celebrate the milestone of helping to open more than 922,000 new savings accounts through our partners in Ethiopia, India, and the Philippines. Over the course of this journey, we were reminded that creating and managing a product like savings for the poor requires extensive planning and adaptation. Even when you launch the product, you’re not done.

The new savings products we helped to launch with Cashpor in India and CARD Bank in the Philippines were quite popular with clients, but many accounts went dormant within a few months of being opened. It took a continued effort to address account dormancy by improving organizational processes, building client trust, and teaching financial literacy.

Accurate, real-time data can make all the difference in effectively addressing the needs of the poor

Organizations and social enterprises often lack accurate data to measure and grow their social impact. That's why Grameen Foundation provides the Progress out of Poverty Index, a simple tool to measure poverty levels and track progress over time, and integrates it into TaroWorks, our mobile-phone based data management solution. These tools provide a powerful way to gain insights, evaluate programs, and improve impact.

This year, Aspen Institute’s Network for Development Entrepreneurs documented how one inclusive business, Honey Care, in Kenya is using these tools (PDF). Real-time communication helped Honey Care optimize the timing of their workers’ field visits, improve the efficiency of harvests and reduce losses due to side selling. It also helped to ensure that any issues with the hive’s health were promptly resolved. And by tracking hive performance, Honey Care was better able to estimate the amount of supply that it would market to both local and international honey buyers.

The mobile phone might not be as inclusive as you think

Statistics about mobile phone ownership around the world suggest a tantalizing vision of a nearly ubiquitous platform for financial inclusion. Those numbers, however, conceal significant challenges. Our own research along with a survey of GSMA (PDF), the global association of mobile operators, reveals that women often do not own or have easy access to the phones within their households.

Even when they own a phone, the poor often are not able to use it effectively, which can put more complex financial transactions out of reach. This highlights the importance the trusted human networks noted above. Earlier this year, Grameen Foundation’s Sean Krepp shared key insights on this issue from the perspective of our Community Knowledge Worker program in Uganda, and Leo Tobias looked at the implications of mobile phone research in Asia on our mobile financial services efforts.

Recommended Reading

In the spirit of reflection, we also asked our senior leadership what were some of the most influential research publications, books, or articles (outside Grameen Foundation) published this year, and here are a few of their recommendations:

What were your biggest lessons learned in 2013? What were your favorite reads? Let us know in the comments.